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Racism in Football in Portugal: Perceptions of Multiple Actors

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of Maia, 4475-690 Maia, Portugal
Interdisciplinary Center for Gender Studies (CIEG/ISCSP-ULisboa), 1300-663 Lisboa, Portugal
ESS, Polytechnic of Porto, 4200-072 Porto, Portugal
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Soc. Sci. 2023, 12(3), 165;
Received: 20 December 2022 / Revised: 13 February 2023 / Accepted: 3 March 2023 / Published: 9 March 2023
(This article belongs to the Section Social Stratification and Inequality)


The present paper aims to analyze and understand, from an intersectional point of view, the extent and the characteristics of racism in football in Portugal, based on the perspectives of football fans, coaches, amateur players, professional players, journalists, parents, and other elements directly or indirectly involved in the modality. Using an online questionnaire, this exploratory study involved 1681 participants, 456 self-identified as women, 1221 as men, and 4 as non-binary, aged between 13 and 61 years old (M = 33.02; DP = 12.64). The results show gender, skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation/gender identity, and functional diversity are the main factors explaining discrimination in football, with differences between genders. Nearly 70% of women and 50% of men admitted the existence of racism in football in Portugal. In addition, associations between participants’ condition, age, perceptions, and experiences of racism were found, with amateur players and younger participants revealing a stronger position concerning the topic. This study can inform contemporary debates in critical research, particularly around football, discrimination, and cultural citizenship. Intersectional research across football studies is crucial to better understand the racialized aspects of football and develop better policies that can prevent and combat racism.

1. Introduction

For almost 50 years, Portugal lived under a conservative regime, where nationalism represented a core value (Drumond 2013). Until 1974, the country experienced a political dictatorship characterized by the rhetoric of miscegenation, in which the master national narrative based on the Discoveries was central (Almeida 2008).
During the period of the New State, sport occupied an important role in social life, with football achieving international success, notwithstanding the governmental efforts to control the growth of the modality (Fernandes et al. 2011). According to Cardão (2018), “the mid-twentieth-century football in the Portuguese empire echoed the ideologies of colonialism” (p. 374), being that the integration of players from the African colonies into national clubs, especially Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, was one of the most preeminent arguments to sustain the idea of a multiracial society. The myth of Luso-tropicalism, which incorporates the assumption that Portuguese people maintain pleasant relations with other people, demonstrating a special ability for adaptation to the tropics and showing an attitude toward social integration (Valentim and Heleno 2018), is so rooted in the national culture that still informs Portuguese identity nowadays (Santos 2003) and, subsequently, the way racialized players are seen (Vala et al. 2008). Thus, understanding the expression of racism in the country premises an analysis of the socio-historical framework in which it was involved during the period of dictatorship.
If it is true that football reflects globalization and the diversity of cultural manifestations (Ferreira et al. 2017) which portray contemporary societies (Lago-Peñas et al. 2019), uniting peoples and communities fractured by cultural (Karakaya et al. 2016) and ethnic differences (Lawrence and Davis 2019), it is also true that it may favor social segregation (Nolasco and Ribeiro 2018). Football has the potential to play a vital role in integration, the promotion of education, and public health, reinforcing values of mutual respect, tolerance, non-discrimination, and fair play, but it can be a context where oppression is, unfortunately, often present too. In that sense, dynamics, and practices in football express and characterize the relationships between groups and their symbolic positions in society (Ferreira et al. 2017), including those marked by inequalities. As Hylton (2016) has concluded, football is full of markers of both the good and bad of global Humanity.
In recent years, several incidents in Europe, and in Portugal more precisely, have been negatively affecting the image of football, with racism standing out among other forms of violence. Although some studies had observed that overt forms of discrimination, racism, and racist violence in football stadia were seemingly in decline in the last decade (Kassimeris 2007), resulting in the advent of a few anti-racist policy directives in sports, leading to what some have interpreted as a less violent culture (Cleland and Cashmore 2016), other studies refute such evidence (e.g., Hylton 2010; Kassimeris et al. 2022). Despite new policies and demands fighting against racism, violence, xenophobia, and intolerance (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights 2021), the manifestation of hostile or discriminatory behavior in football seems to be endemic and ubiquitous.
Racism can be defined as a system of practices/behaviors (discrimination), attitudes (prejudice), and beliefs (stereotypes) that assumes the inferiority of certain ethno-racial groups compared to others that are considered superior (Berman and Paradies 2010), and it can be manifested directly or indirectly (Lawrence and Davis 2019). Racism can be expressed in overt/explicit/blatant or covert/subtle ways (Pettigrew and Meertens 1995). Overt racism or explicit racism are those that are the easiest to see and describe as racism, unlike the more insidious or covert forms of racism (e.g., racial violence, racial slurs). Overt racism operates as a form of expression of ethnocentrism and racial discrimination (Elias 2015). It is the intentional and/or obvious harmful attitudes or behaviors towards another minority individual or group because of his/her skin color, the rejection of the outgroup and the perception that it constitutes a threat and the rejection of relationships of interpersonal intimacy with outgroup members. This kind of racism can be practiced by individuals, groups, institutions, and across societies (Vala et al. 2008). Covert or subtle racism integrates the perception that the outgroup does not conform to the traditional values of society (e.g., values of work and success) and the accentuation of cultural differences between the ingroup and the outgroup. It is considered the inability to express positive emotions towards outgroup members (Pettigrew and Meertens 1995; Vala et al. 2008). Covert or subtle racism occurs in perceived private spaces (Hylton and Lawrence 2016), such as backstage, and often appears hidden by norms of association, affiliation, group membership, and/or identity (e.g., racial profiling, bad customer service). It is often excused or confused with exclusion and inclusion mechanisms, acceptance, and rejection (Coates 2011). Covert or subtle racism operates as a boundary-keeping mechanism whose primary purpose is to maintain social distance between the racial elite and racial non-elite (Liao et al. 2016). Such boundary mechanisms work best when they are assumed to be natural, legitimate, and normal and are typically taught as part of the dominant socialization processes operant within society and/or social groups.
Even though some scholars have distinguished concepts of race and ethnicity, ethnicity usually refers to cultural traits such as language, dress, norms, and values, and race refers to biological characteristics such as skin color, natural strength, or other physical markers (van Sterkenburg et al. 2019). Race and ethnicity often get used in conflated ways in everyday discourse. Many times, people believe they do not hold racist beliefs or attitudes but can express prejudice when certain stimuli appear (Gaertner and Dovidio 2000). Insults, for example, could be perceived simply as a normal verbal attack, but it is overt racial prejudice (Ferreira et al. 2017). All kinds of discrimination go far beyond the universe of football fans and far beyond, for example, the openly racist language heard in stadiums. This is only one of the fields in which the establishment of a racial hierarchy, of discourses of belonging and exclusion, exists (Almeida 2016). Although people today are more hesitant to express explicit attitudes toward racism due to the existence of laws and social norms that penalize it (Watanabe and Cunningham 2020), expressions and practices of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, disability, trans- and intersexuality, homosexuality, and nation stereotypes still occur in sports, even if hidden (Dorer and Marschik 2020). Stereotypes and beliefs seem to guide people’s behavioral intentions toward an outgroup, but emotions became an energizer that, when people are directly interacting with an outgroup member, decide whether a behavior is performed (Talaska et al. 2008). These racist incidents in sport accordingly revealed the tensions between an imagined nation and the diversity of a team which represented it.
Many authors have shown that football, like other sports, remains an overwhelmingly white male space (Cleland and Cashmore 2014; Lawrence and Davis 2019). As pointed out by Almeida (2022, p. 84), “(…) the status of ethnically marked Portuguese players is still characterized by a deep subalternity to the white majority”. Black athletes are only valued because of their physical attributes and technical quality, although in situations of tension and dispute, whites can still feel superior and be more valued (Silva and Figueiredo 2020).
Racism could occur structurally, when the production and control of and access to material, informational, and symbolic resources within society serve to maintain or exacerbate unequal opportunities and outcomes for ethno-racial groups (Banaji et al. 2021); interpersonally, when interactions between people serve to maintain or exacerbate the unequal distribution of opportunity across ethno-racial groups; and individually, when an individual incorporates ideologies within their worldview which serve to maintain or exacerbate the unequal distribution of opportunity across ethno-racial groups (Pieper and Linden 2020). Racism, being one manifestation of the broader phenomenon of oppression, could include other multiple forms such as sexism, ageism, heterosexism, classism, and cissexism (Macedo et al. 2019). Masculinity in football, for example, is equated with a biological and physiological blueprint of strength and stamina and with certain characteristics such as cis- and heteronormativity (European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation 2020).
The so-called color-blindness and meritocratic discourse (Cleland and Cashmore 2014) are important mechanisms in the continuation of racialized and oppressed structures in covert and (un)intentional ways that do not allow us to understand the real problem. Football configures a context where the combination of racial prejudice and power is real.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which developed into a known presence in the 2010s, challenged the age-old argument that racism was a historical artifact and pointed to the existence of structural racism in all facets of life, including hiring practices in employment, police biases, educational opportunities, and depictions of black people in many social contexts, like sports (Pieper and Linden 2020). The killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and Eric Garner have reinforced the need for black activism in sports, particularly in football (TePoel and Narcotta-Welp 2021). Along with implementing national and international policies to prevent and combat racism in football, it was expected that the BLM movement could mitigate racist behaviors and discourses inside and outside the football games.

2. Portugal Fighting against Discrimination and Violence in Football

The fight against racism and racial and ethnic discrimination is, therefore, a pressing challenge to Portuguese society’s commitments, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and Protocol no. 12 to this convention on the general prohibition of discrimination, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action of Durban, and the European Commission’s recent European Union Action Plan against Racism 2020–2025 (European Commission 2020).
Article 13 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic establishes the principle of equality as the corollary of the dignity of the human person and the principle of the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of descent, sex, race, language, place of origin, religion, political or ideological beliefs, education, economic situation, social condition, or sexual orientation. The phenomenon of violence associated with sport and the necessary prevention of the same were enshrined in the Portuguese Constitution in 1989 through the second constitutional revision, where Article 79 (Physical culture and sport) assumed that the Portuguese State, in collaboration with schools and sports associations and collectivities, is compelled to “prevent violence in sport” (p. 37).
Law no. 113/2019 of 11 September 2019 has established the legal regime for security and combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance at sports shows, amending Law no. 39/2009 of 30 July. This new regime essentially aims to allow sports events to be held with greater safety and to control the phenomenon of violence in these environments.
Among the legislative innovations introduced is the reinforcement of the obligations of sports agents in preventive actions—greater control and supervision by the Authority for the Prevention and Combating of Violence in Sport (APCVD); special conditions of access and stay for fans; creation of summary proceedings and the increasement of fines, penalties, and banning access to stadiums.
APCVD is a central service of the direct administration of the State, with competence in the area of sport, whose mission is to prevent and supervise compliance with the legal regime and combat racism, xenophobia, and intolerance in sporting events, to enable sporting events to be held in a safe environment, and to make it possible to carry them out safely, as set out in Regulatory Decree no. 10/2018, of 3 October.
The APCVD is intended as a reference in preventing and combating violence in sport, as well as in the implementation of an integrated approach to protection, safety, and quality of services in sporting events, as designated in the Convention of Saint-Denis, ratified by Portugal, namely in the identification and promotion of national and international references of good practices, in a collaborative multi-institutional context. In this way, it promotes raising the safety standards of sporting events, using cooperation mechanisms and multidisciplinary intervention with other stakeholders.
However, the situations in sports continued to be problematic, such as the mediatic case of Marega, a former striker for Porto Football Club, who was a victim of racist insults during the match between the Porto Football Club and the Vitória de Guimarães Football Club. This sharp decrease is mainly explained by the severe limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which initially led to the interruption of sports competitions, and, after the resumption of professional competitions, sporting events were held without spectators. Even in the scenario described, there were 73 cases (4.3%) of incitement to violence, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance (APCVD 2021).
Being aware of these problems in many social spheres, Portugal implemented the National Plan to Combat Racism and Discrimination 2021–2025—Portugal against racism (PNCRD, 2021–2025) (Plano Nacional de Combate ao Racismo e à Discriminação 2021), the first national plan in this area, which aims to promote equality and combat racism and racial discrimination considered, under the terms of Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of destroying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic in the political, economic, social and cultural fields or any other field of public life” (p. 2). Sports are one of the main areas of intervention.

3. Intersectionality as a New Landmark: Theoretical Framework to Conduct Our Study

Intersectionality, rooted in Black Feminism and first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991), is known as a powerful theoretical framework for examining how interlocking systems of power manifest in individuals’ experiences and the mutually constitutive character of salient systems of difference and inequality, such as gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality, and disability, and studying how these systems produce inequalities based on individuals’ social positioning (Collins 2015; Crenshaw 1989).
This designates the interaction of various categories, socially and culturally constructed, which occur at multiple levels and which lead to social inequalities. In other words, it is defined as an area of research that studies the meanings and consequences of multiple categorical belonging that are the source of systematic discrimination (Crenshaw 1991).
Black experience of inequality in sport can be clearly articulated through an intersectional lens rather than taking a single axis of power (Crenshaw 1991), as such a view detracts from the multiplicity of social identification (Lim et al. 2021; McCall 2005).
In the realm of football research, intersectionality approaches have shed light on the interconnectedness of different social categories in shaping one’s opportunities, participation, and oppression (Zenquis and Mwaniki 2019). Intersectionality research is emerging in recent years; however, it is a largely unexplored paradigm in Portuguese research.
Literature on social diversity and football is more widespread now than ever before (Hughson et al. 2016), yet much of this literature has focused on peoples’ experiences of playing football considering their ethnic belongings, while other society members’ perceptions and practices remain under-researched. Scientific knowledge about racism in sports and other social contexts is scarce in the country because Portugal does not have available data on racial inequality. Considering all those circumstances, the following research aims to enhance the understanding of racism in Portuguese football.

4. Method

4.1. Objectives

The present study aims to characterize the way people perceive situations of racism in football in Portugal and has the following specific objectives:
  • To determine the expression of racism and other forms of discrimination in football in Portugal from the point of view of direct and indirect actors;
  • To analyze how perceptions of racism in football in Portugal are characterized according to gender, age, and participants’ condition;
  • To assess the formal or informal strategies of the (ir)resolution of cases of racism in football in Portugal and their (in)effectiveness;
  • To map potential measures for preventing and combating racism in football in Portugal.

4.2. Sample

This exploratory study involved 1681 participants from Portugal, aged between 13 and 61 years (M = 33.02, DP = 12.64), 456 self-identified as women and 1221 as men. Most of the sample (n = 1507; 89.6%) is Portuguese, with most participants living in the North of Portugal (n = 742; 44.1%), Lisbon (n = 322; 19.2%) and Center (n = 302; 18%). Concerning educational qualifications, 49.6% (n = 833) of the participants have higher education and 36.5% (n = 613) have a secondary school education, with 42.5% (n = 715) being dependent workers, 23.1% (n = 389) students, and 11.2% (n = 189) self-employed workers. In terms of their condition as participants in the study, the most expressive profiles are football fans (n = 419; 24.9%), coaches (n = 336; 20.0%), and amateur athletes (n = 278; 16.5%). Parents represent 5.5% of participants and there are 57 journalists and 33 professional athletes who responded to the survey. Of those who identified themselves as players, 81% (n = 252) have been practicing football for more than 5 years. In the case of coaches and managers, 73.8% (n = 248) and 62.9% (n = 90), respectively, have been practicing for more than 5 years.
Regarding the division in which the clubs play, 37.2% (n = 625) of the participants answered that they play in the 1st League, 10.4% (n = 175) in the Portuguese Championship, 6.1% (n = 102) in the elite division, and 4.3% (n = 72) in the 2nd League. Around 42% (n = 707) responded that they play in other divisions (Table 1).

4.3. Questionnaire

For data collection, a questionnaire was developed, based on previous studies and the relevant literature. With a total of 28 questions, the instrument is composed of three sections: (1) sociodemographic characterization, (2) characterization of the expression of discrimination and racism in the practice of football in Portugal, and (3) final observations. Only the questions concerning the description of discrimination or racist situation were open. The first part of the instrument includes informed consent.

4.4. Procedures

To be included in the study, participants had to be football fans, coaches, amateurs or professional players, journalists, or other elements directly or indirectly involved in the modality. The questionnaire was posted online through the promotor website and social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn) and sent by email to partners’ institutions and several entities linked to football in Portugal (e.g., Portuguese Federation of Football, APCVD) so that it could be shared and answered by the largest number of participants, resulting in a non-probabilistic voluntary response sample.
With an average filling time of twenty minutes, the data collection occurred between October and February of 2021. Informed consent was given to all participants and anonymity and confidentiality were guaranteed. The study has followed the Code of Ethics and Deontology of the Portuguese Psychologists Association, the ethical principles of the American Psychology Association, and the General Regulation on Data Protection from the European Union.
The statistical treatment of the data was executed with the IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences Statistics (IBM SPSS Statistics, version 27.0, Armonk, NY, USA).

5. Results

Firstly, we will present information on the different types of discrimination participants have identified as the most preeminent, followed by the results concerning racism in football in Portugal.

5.1. Discrimination in Portuguese Football

The main factors of discrimination identified by participants in Portuguese football were skin color, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation/gender identity, and functional diversity (e.g., physical disability), which vary according to participants’ gender and conditions.
The percentage of women that indicated the existence of discrimination is significantly higher when compared to men (Table 2). Hence, an association was verified between the sex of the participants and the identification of the reasons for discrimination ( χ 2 ( 12 ) = 468.188, p < 0.001), with the percentage of men who did not identify any discrimination factor (n = 318; 26%) being significantly higher than that of women (n = 46; 10.1%) ( χ 2 (1) = 49.742, p < 0.001).
Furthermore, the association of the participants’ conditions with the reasons for discrimination is significant ( χ 2 (120) = 474.376, p < 0.001). For reasons such as skin color and ethnicity, the percentage of football fans and amateur/professional players is significantly higher than that of sports managers, parents, and coaches. Regarding gender, fans and journalists are the ones who identify it more when compared to sports managers, administrators, referees, and coaches. Concerning religion and sexual orientation/gender identity, the percentage of fans is also significantly higher than that of sports managers, administrators, refereeing teams, and coaches.
Additionally, the reasons for discrimination show an association with participants’ age ( χ 2 (36) = 508.856, p < 0.001). While skin color is considered the main reason for discrimination by participants under the age of 39, participants aged 40 and over consider sexual orientation/gender identity as the main reason (Table 3). There is no difference between age groups concerning socio-economic status as a possible factor of discrimination. However, for all the remaining factors, except for educational attainment, people aged 40 and over are the ones who exhibit a significantly lower perception when compared with other age groups.

5.2. Racism in Portuguese Football

Nearly 60% of the participants considered racism to exist in Portuguese football. The results show an association between the gender of the participants and the opinion that racism exists in football in Portugal ( χ 2 (1) = 73.173, p < 0.001). The percentage of women who responded positively (n = 334; 73.2%) is significantly higher than the percentage of men (n = 610; 50%).
There is an association between the condition of the respondent and the opinion that racism exists ( χ 2 (1) = 100.645, p < 0.001). The percentage of amateur athletes who answer positively is significantly higher than the percentage of sports agents, sports directors, parents, members of refereeing teams, and coaches who also do so. The percentage of fans and journalists who consider racism to exist is significantly higher than that of sports agents, parents, and coaches.
The opinion that there is racism in Portuguese football is also associated with age group ( χ 2 (3) = 154.498, p < 0.001). The proportion of people at lower ages (<18 years and 19 to 24 years) who respond positively (71.7% and 74.7%) is significantly higher than the proportion of people at higher ages (25 to 39 years and 40 or more years) who also do so (57% and 37.4%).
Both men and women participants elected as the most common manifestations of racism in Portugal verbal violence, followed by psychological violence, social violence, physical violence, and sexual violence (Table 4).
There is an association between the gender of the participants and the type of violence they selected as being associated with racism in football in Portugal ( χ 2 (6) = 205.269, p < 0.001). The proportion of women selecting the existence of violence is higher than the proportion of men for all types of violence. Social violence is the one where the difference is smaller but still significant.
About 50% and 70% of men and women participants, respectively, considered that those who most display racist attitudes and behavior in football are the fans, followed by the cheerleaders (37.4% in the case of men and 52.4% in the case of women).
In terms of participants’ conditions and different age groups, fans and cheerleaders are identified as the main groups that exhibit more racist attitudes and behaviors in football.

5.3. Victims of Racism

Participants (more than 90%) considered that racism in football in Portugal is directed toward athletes and especially perpetuated towards male athletes, followed by coaches and cheerleaders. Globally, participants considered that racism is perpetuated more towards male than female actors. Looking specifically to female victims, female coaches (13.9%), caretakers (12.5%), and technical staff (10.3%) are more identified as victims than female athletes (8.8%) (Table 5).
There is an association between the participant gender and the gender of the athlete victim of racism ( χ 2 (2) = 47.911, p < 0.001). The percentage of women that identify female athletes as victims (17.4%) is higher than the percentage of men that have the same opinion (4.1%). This type of association between the participant gender and the intervenient gender is observed for all other players, with the exception of caretakers. The percentage of women that consider racism to be directed at females is generally higher than the percentage of men with the same opinion. Nonetheless, both men and women considered racism to be perpetuated mainly towards male rather than female actors.
There was no statistical evidence that the participants’ condition is associated with the gender of the victims of racism. Regardless of the condition to which one belongs, the majority understanding of the people who answered the question is that racism tends to be directed more towards men, with male athletes being the people most referred to as victims of racism, followed by coaches and cheerleaders.
Regarding age groups, all participants considered that men are the main targets of racism in Portuguese football. Furthermore, for all age groups, athletes are the group to whom racism tends to be more directed, followed by coaches. There are, however, differences in the third group more identified by younger participants, who identified technical staff in third place, while older participants identified cheerleaders.

5.4. Handling Racism in Portuguese Football

Only 17.2% and 13.2% of the people surveyed, men and women, respectively, considered there to be an adequate treatment of cases of racism in football in Portugal. There was no statistical evidence that gender is associated with the idea that there is an adequate treatment ( χ 2 (1) = 2.649, p = 0.104).
All groups’ conditions and age groups agreed that the treatment given to cases of racism in Portuguese football is inadequate.
Participants identified three situations that lead to inappropriate treatment of situations of racism in football in Portugal: (a) the devaluation of the seriousness of the cases, expressed by 80.2% of females and 72.0% of males, (b) the absence of complaints to the competent authorities, evident in 45.5% of the female respondents’ answers and 40.3% of the male respondents’, and (c) the perpetuation of a racist culture in Portuguese society, expressed by 43.1% women and by 30.2% of men. There was an association of gender with the identification of causes for the inappropriate treatment ( χ 2 (6) = 32.638, p < 0.001), with a significantly higher proportion of women than men identifying the first and third situations above.
When we analyze by the participants’ conditions, all of them point out that the main reason for inadequate handling of racism cases in football is the devaluation of the seriousness of the cases.
For the amateur and professional athletes, the sports directors, parents, referee team members, technical team members, staff, and coaches, the second main reason is the absence of complaints to the competent authorities, while for fans and journalists, it is the existence of a racist culture in the country. Other reasons were pointed out, such as the inadequacy of the current law and the length of court proceedings. The reasons indicated showed an association with the participants’ condition ( χ 2 (60) = 147.108, p < 0.001), with a significantly higher proportion of fans indicating the existence of a racist culture than the proportion of amateur athletes, sports directors, and coaches.
Regarding age groups, the devaluation of the seriousness of the cases is the main reason identified by participants, varying from 63% to 78% of participants from all age groups. Secondary reasons differ slightly between groups. There is a significant association between age groups and the indicated reasons ( χ 2 (18) = 72.645, p < 0.001), with a significantly higher percentage of younger participants (28%) that do not identify any reason leading to the inappropriate treatment of situations of racism, when compared with participants over 18 years.

5.5. Measures for Preventing and Combating Racism in Football in Portugal

Participants present important measures to prevent and combat racism in football, such as the punishment of adepts and investment in continuing education, measures selected by 96.7% and 94.6% of women and 97.2% and 91.5% of men, respectively. There is an association between participants’ gender and measures selected ( χ 2 (8) = 51.631, p < 0.001), with a lower percentage of women (83.8%) indicating the punishment of athletes as a measure when compared with the percentage of men (90.8%), and a higher percentage of women than men indicating the promotion of more anti-racist campaigns and more visibility of cases in the media.
In terms of participants’ conditions, the punishment of fans is the measure most frequently selected by participants from most conditions (above 90% in all groups). The exception is for caretakers and other members of the technical team, who indicated the investment in continuing education as the main measure to prevent and combat racism (94.1% and 100%, respectively). The association between what participants consider the best measure to prevent and combat racism and their condition is statistically significant ( χ 2 (80) = 138.208, p < 0.001). There was a significantly higher proportion of amateur athletes (84.7%) suggesting more visibility of cases in the media than the percentage of coaches with the same opinion (68.5%).
As far as age groups are concerned, all people considered that the main measure to prevent and combat racism in football is to punish fans, with percentages above 95% in all age groups. There was also an association between age groups and the measure selected ( χ 2 (24) = 61.640, p < 0.001), with a lower percentage of younger participants (18 and under) suggesting the punishment of clubs (70.2%) and the investment in continuing education (87.1%) than the percentage of older participants (80% and 92.6%, respectively). On the other hand, there was a significantly higher percentage of younger participants (87.9%) suggesting the visibility of cases in the media than older participants (74.3% and 78.1% for participants who were 25–39 years old and 40 and older, respectively).

6. Discussion and Conclusions

The present study highlights the existence of racism in Portuguese football in terms of the perceptions lived by different types of actors. As we are dealing with perceptions of racism, they reflect the personal recognition of discrimination based on race and ethnicity. In this case, discrimination is identified by the participants as any form of pejorative attitude or misconduct which might be explained by personal or social attributes. As found in similar research (Cleland and Cashmore 2016) from the perspective of players and people directly or indirectly involved in football, racism seems to remain present in the universe of the modality, being culturally embedded in stigmatized visions of gender, race, sexuality, nationality, and disability. In that sense, along with racism, other forms of discrimination are pointed out, with sexism, homophobia, and ableism displayed as the most relevant in the current investigation. Using an intersectional lens to understand how and to what extent discrimination and racism are affected by combined forms of oppression may contribute to more effective strategies to prevent and combat it. Supported by the results of studies conducted both nationally and internationally, it was possible to observe that women are those who recognize the most evidence of oppression in Portuguese football. Since they constitute the main group experiencing sexist discrimination (Symons et al. 2017), not only in football but also in other spheres (e.g., politics, family, work), and because they are historically more subjected to various forms of domination and oppression, they are probably more aware of the problem and more to able to identify it. Additionally, as more girls and women are involved in playing football, they became more alert to gender and ethnic asymmetries that still persist (Lago et al. 2021). Considering that sport is principally a sex-segregated social institution based on a gender order and heterosexuality tends to be central in social life (Kolnes 1995), heteronormativity is a core value in judging players’ performance. In consequence, homophobia reflects the resistance of sport and football against the broader societal shifts concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people (Shaw 2019). Moreover, according to Atherton and Macbeth (2017, p. 280), “disability football and disability footballers were at best marginalized and at worst ignored by national and international football authorities”, which emphasizes that ableism is one of the most persistent forms of discrimination against football players with disabilities.
In the current study, all the participants identified male players as those most subjected to racism, especially during games. The invisibility of professional female football in Portugal, along with the mediatization of professional male football, with the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo representing the modality all around the world as a celebrity (Wagg 2010), has been contributing, among other factors, to a wider awareness of racist cases against male players.
For both genders, the most prevalent form of violence is verbal, followed by psychological, practiced predominantly by the fans and cheerleaders. As concluded in several studies (e.g., Kaholokula et al. 2017), psychological well-being is adversely affected by racism, which seems to lead to more severe chronic diseases and mental health conditions (Pascoe and Richman 2009), hence highlighting that the impacts of perceived racism on victims should be prioritized.
Furthermore, the present study highlights the necessity of observing and analyzing racism while considering the condition in which people participate in football, as players or non-players, as external or internal audiences. What seems to be evident is that the reasons different actors use to explain racism in Portuguese football vary according to their status and their age, with amateur athletes expressing most the existence of racism and older people showing more resistance to identifying racist practices. The first result might be associated with the fact that amateur athletes are often in a more vulnerable position to be subjected to discrimination behaviors and be, in consequence, less protected when compared to their professional peers. The second result might be interpreted as an advance in youth’s awareness of recognizing racism as a human rights matter.
The results of this study point toward the urgent need to place the issue of racism in football in Portugal on the political, social, and academic agenda, assuming it as a priority. Alongside racism, the issues of sexism, homophobia, romaphobia, and xenophobia also need to be made visible to define complementary lines of prevention and combat. Despite the fact that the country has been developing fundamental changes, both social and legal, since the instauration of democracy, the fact is that the expressions of racism and other forms of discrimination bring to light reminders of a system profoundly marked by the premises of colonialism and nationalism.
We hope that the first EU anti-racism action plan for 2020–2025 (European Commission 2020), which addresses both individual and structural forms of racism, sets out a series of measures, including mainstreaming combating racism in all EU policies, and calls for closer and regular coordination and consultation, creates measures and specific results in the football world. As Hylton pointed out in 2010, “being against racism necessitates behavioural change rather than simply relying on the wearing of a band or the signing of a document” (p. 337).

Author Contributions

All authors had contributed equality for conceptualization, methodology, software, formal analysis, and writing—original draft preparation. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


The research was co-financed by Fare Network and Plan i Association.

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Table 1. Participants’ characteristics.
Table 1. Participants’ characteristics.
Age 33.0212.64
  Portuguese1507 89.6
Area of residence
  1st cycle of basic education694.1
  Secondary school61336.5
  Bachelor’s degree57033.9
  Master’s degree23714.1
  PhD degree261.5
Professional occupation
  Dependent workers71542.5
  Self-employed workers18911.2
  Working students1227.3
Condition as participants
  Football fans41924.9
  Amateur athletes27816.5
  Members of the refereeing team19611.7
  Sport managers1448.6
  Sport agents503.0
  Staff (e.g., doctor, communication, PR)432.6
  Professional athletes332.0
  Other members of the technical team332.0
Time of practice
   Less than 5 years5918.9
   More than 5 years25281.0
   Less than 5 years8873.8
   More than 5 years24826.2
   Less than 5 years5337.1
   More than 5 years9062.9
Club division
  1st League62537.2
  Portuguese championship17510.4
  Elite division1026.1
  2nd League724.3
  Other divison70742
Note. N = 1681.
Table 2. Reasons for discrimination by gender.
Table 2. Reasons for discrimination by gender.
Reasons for DiscriminationWomenMenpRRTotal Sample
Skin color31268.460449.5<0.0011.3891854.6
Migration status18640.830124.7<0.0011.6548829.0
Socio-economic status13228.928623.40.0201.2441924.9
Functional diversity25656.146037.7<0.0011.4971842.7
Sexual orientation/gender identity26758.656646.4<0.0011.2683549.7
Academic qualifications5211.413310.9>0.051.0518711.1
No reason identified4610.131826.0<0.0010.3936521.7
Table 3. Reasons for discrimination by age group.
Table 3. Reasons for discrimination by age group.
Reasons for Discrimination≤18 Years19–24 Years25–39 Years≥40 Years
Skin color12572.329171.529955.520336.1
Migration status5934.116239.814727.312021.4
Socio-economic status4023.111528.313324.713123.3
Functional diversity7643.919547.923343.221438.1
Sexual orientation/gender identity7845.122755.828653.124443.4
Academic qualifications179.85914.5478.76411.4
Table 4. Types of violence associated with racism by gender.
Table 4. Types of violence associated with racism by gender.
Types of ViolenceWomenMenpRR
Table 5. People to whom racism is mainly directed.
Table 5. People to whom racism is mainly directed.
Non ApplicableFemaleMale
Sport managers51454.4828.734936.9
Technical staff47149.89710.337739.9
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